Suburban Safari: Playing out for the summer…and beyond

Suburban Safari: Playing out for the summer…and beyond

by Katie Isham.

Summer is well and truly here: it’s time to get outside and play out. 

Try to recall the long summer holidays of youth. How much time did you spend indoors? The days of hanging around with your friends at the park or making up games in the garden seemed endless. 

My own younger days revolved around The Valley. A true Sholing stalwart. A ribbon of green woven through the suburbs towards the shore: part of the mighty Shoreburs Greenway. We won’t tackle the entire greenway today; lazy summer days aren’t for stomping long distances, but more about mooching about down The Valley. 

Start at South East Road’s entrance. In the dip of Bunny’s Hill there’s a cutway to join Shoreburs Greenway. Enter on the north side of the road and follow the gravel path into the woodland. Wind your way through the canopy of ancient oaks overhead and ferns bursting sideways.

Follow the track and keep the stream to your left. Although “stream” seems like an awful misnomer at present given the dry conditions having left it little more than a trickle. Still, it provides a vital lifeline for the butterflies, dragonflies and squirrels flying through the branches of this flourishing habitat. 

The path is punctuated by several bridges crossing the water, side paths up to the residential streets and desire lines (honestly, you’re safe to Google them) tramped out by fellow walkers. Explore the area. Criss cross your route and take the unexpected path. Make sure you scramble down to the “trickle” for the aquatic leg of the safari. 

Soon the path leads to a children’s play area. Pause if you have little ones in tow. Across the adjacent bridge, the path opens up to a large field for more playing purposes. Also a good location to greet the local dogs (and their human companions). A childhood memory of mine is the astonishment of living within a stone’s throw of a playground and a stream. I still think the people in the picture postcard houses overlooking this site are blessed by nature. 

But in fact, even if we don’t live right there, it’s not far for a neighbourhood wander. To find an enclave of such dense woodland and nature nestled in our community is a precious gift for us all. 

For those of us without a garden, this access to nature is integral to our lives and our wellbeing. Something the Plants for People superheroes completely understand. A charity born of Southampton City Council and Mayfield Nurseries, Plants for People does exactly that: it provides support and infrastructure to allow communities to grow plants, some for beauty, some for food, but always for fun. 

The project tends seven garden sites in residential areas around the city. Plants for People may have set up these gardens, but it’s the people keeping it running. Monday mornings are made infinitely better by visiting the Sholing garden in Dempsey Close. Raised beds growing a whole range of plants and a new wild garden area encourage local residents to get their fingers dirty. Anyone is welcome to help out, as they can in any of the sites across Southampton. Roll up your sleeves, nurture something, chat to your neighbours and see what comes of these small seeds of change. 

And if this initiative running throughout the year isn’t enough, they’re generating extra excitement during the school holidays. Games, crafts, scavenger hunts all to keep the kids entertained and enthused about the outdoors. Those summer days just became that little bit fuller. 

So climb on out of The Valley. Cross the stream and find one of the many exits up to Alfriston Gardens and move east onto the main thoroughfare of Katheen Road. Head south back towards South East Road until the cutway to the right into the estate. Hidden between the tower blocks lies the garden carefully cultivated by the community. 

The dream summer would be for all youngsters to have gardens to grow their imagination and to play out until the summer light fades, but that’s not always possible. The Plants for People project by The Valley, and at other locations around Southampton, brings the magic of the outdoors to those without gardens whilst providing a safe, supportive space to explore the wonder of nature. Which is surely a touch of green fingered magic. If anyone needs me, I’ll be playing out until September…






Cost: Free for the walk. Plants for People community gardening project run all sessions for free including the children’s summer holidays activities. 

Accessibility: The paths down The Valley are gravel woodland routes with some stray roots and often steep inclines to and from the residential streets. Sholing is on many bus routes including the number 3 First Bus that carves its way up Kathleen Road running directly through the route. 

Facilities: No toilets on the route. Shops located nearby for emergency refreshments. Activities and gardening time provided weekly by Plants for People.


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